Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many travelers had to pivot when it came to their summer vacation plans. According to a recent study, among all leisure travelers surveyed, 46 percent rank camping as the safest type of trip to take. In addition to being a safe way to travel, camping fulfills a desire to be outdoors, which 43 percent of leisure travelers say is now more important as a result of the pandemic. RV trips have surged this summer. Renting an RV is the first step, planning where to go is next.
A good option is staying at Kampgrounds of America (KOA), the world’s largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds with over 500 locations across the U.S. and Canada. Many KOA’s have Kamp K9 pet parks (many people travel with their dogs); laundry facilities (which makes it much easier to pack light and wash as you go); playgrounds; and convenience stores (great for buying campfire wood, fire starters, or forgotten items like milk and marshmallows).
The KOA brand has three different categories: Resort, Holiday, and Journey. Across the United States, there are 19 Resort KOAs, 221 Holiday KOAs, and 175 Journey KOAs. (Some of the KOAs are yet to be categorized.)
What’s the difference between the categories? The Resort campgrounds cater to vacationers who want full-service amenities, offering plenty of patio RV sites (which often come with patio furniture and a grill). Plus, the Resort campgrounds also have an abundance of activities led by dedicated recreation staff (note: due to Covid-19, some of these activities are not open), on-site food service, free Wi-Fi, and a resort-style pool. The Holiday properties are a great option for travelers looking for a base camp while exploring surrounding areas, with amenities such as deluxe camping cabins, swimming pools, fitness centers, and game rooms. Finally, the Journey campgrounds are located near highways and byways, catering to travelers on the go looking for a convenient place to relax with easy access on and off the road.
What’s nice about staying at a KOA campground is that it has a proven track record, since it’s been around since 1962. Travelers can expect a set standard of quality, amenities, and expertise. Never backed up or leveled a rig? No problem. Staying at private campgrounds such as KOA means you have assistance on-site.
Here are three upstate New York locations well worth a RV road trip.
This is a great KOA for a first-time RV traveler. There is so much to do at the campground that once you park the RV, you don’t have to move it until you leave. Plus, it’s a Resort category KOA, which means it is at the top of its game and has plenty to do and see.
The Herkimer Diamond Mines are part of this KOA—the diamonds are actually quartz crystals and were faceted by nature over half a billion years ago. The Miner’s Village is a full-day activity. One of the most unique experiences families can have is to search for their own Herkimer diamonds by breaking open rocks with a hammer or simply digging in the dirt. These crystals were formed over 500 million years ago, so kids are learning about geology as they are having fun. The best part? Families can keep everything they find. You can also make jewelry out of your discoveries—including necklaces, bracelets, and rings.
Kids and adults can also go sluice mining—you can purchase a bag of gemstones, diamonds, or fossils and then screen for your treasures with water and sand.
When the weather turns warm, head to the resort pool (shaped like a Herkimer Diamond), which has tables, chairs, and umbrellas for shade.
Another favorite family activity is tubing down the West Canada Creek. You can purchase tubes at the general store (they will also inflate them) and then head to Splash Alley, where you’ll ride the rapids along the creek. You will also pass Crayfish Island where you can go fishing for crayfish—they sell nets and bait in the general store. If you’re an angler, West Canada Creek has some great trout fishing.
When it comes to dining, the Miners Table is one of the reasons this KOA is so unique. This restaurant features a level of culinary cuisine not normally found at a campground. For kids, they have burgers, pasta, and authentic wood-fired pizzas, but it’s the chophouse that will have the adults coming back each night. There is a wide variety of culinary options including steaks, osso bucco, salmon, pork chops, and salads. The restaurant features Herkimer Diamond beer on tap and multiple vodkas distilled through Herkimer Diamonds. This restaurant could easily pass for a big-city hot spot—the food is fresh and delicious and the service is top-notch. If you’re looking for something more casual, the Canteen is a great snack shop with hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, nachos, make-your-own sundaes, and other treats. It’s a great grab-and-go to take back to the campsite or to eat on property after a morning or afternoon of mining.
If you’re traveling via RV, the waterfront spots are the way to go. These deluxe RV sites include concrete patios, patio furniture, propane grills, and firepits. But it’s the views that make these spots the Four Seasons of camping. Watch tubers, birds, and water float down the river. You’ll feel your blood pressure lower simply by taking in all the surrounding nature.
The hospitality at the resort is also top-notch, from the waitstaff at the restaurants to the front-desk check-ins to the staff at the Miner’s Village—it really feels like one big family whose sole purpose is to make sure you’re having a good vacation.
What makes this KOA well worth the visit is its proximity to Niagara Falls. The falls are only seven miles away, making it easy to go back and forth throughout the day and night. (You don’t want to miss the falls illuminated at night.) You can spend your day exploring, like taking a Maid of the Mist tour to experience the falls up close, feel the hurricane-like pressure of the falls by walking along the base in the Cave of the Winds excursion, then hiking down into the gorge to get a real sense of the rapids and flow. Niagara Falls, New York, is not very crowded this year due to Covid-19, so social-distance practices are not difficult to put in place.
When not at the falls, the property has several on-site things to do including two pools (one is heated), a catch-and-release pond for fishing, plus paddle-boat, canoe, and go-cart rentals.
The campsites for RVs are nice; some come with patio furniture (patio tables with chairs), a full-size grill, and a stone ring firepit.
This is another KOA that is known for its ideal location. One of the reasons people travel to this area is to explore the Finger Lakes, most notably Watkins Glen State Park, which has wonderful hiking trails (The Gorge is stunning) and an Olympic-size swimming pool (free and open to the public). You could easily spend a day or two at the state park, hiking and swimming. The area is also known for its wineries and tours to various vineyards.
Back at the KOA, there is a pool, jumping pillow, miniature golf, and walking trails. Due to Covid-19, some activities were closed, including the zip line, waterslide, rock wall, laser tag, and the indoor pool. However, the super-friendly staff is offering guests free firewood (a bundle for each night of their stay) in response to some of the activities not being open.